If you are interested in 3D printing and making in general, you have no doubt seen many people build a DIY 3D printer recently. Both the Voron printers, as well as the RatRig Vcore have become immensely popular in recent months. But why? To answer this question, I want to shed some light on what is involved in building one of these open-source printers, based on my own experience of building a Voron 0.1.
Why build your own 3D printer?
There are many videos on YouTube of people that have upgraded so many parts of their 3D printer that it barely resembles the original machine. And while this can be a fun hobby in itself, why buy a complete printer if you’re going to replace half the parts anyhow? Wouldn’t it make more sense to build one from scratch? Now you might think that this is way too complicated and you’d need an engineering degree to pull it off. But I’m not asking you to design one yourself, just build it. And what if I told you that because these printer designs have gotten so popular lately, there are even complete kits available that include all the components needed to get started. You essentially get the convenience of buying a kit printer like a Prusa, but with the flexibility of building one yourself from scratch. If you don’t like any of the suggested parts, you can just order a different one, or there might even be multiple default options to choose from.
What kind of options are there?
At this point, I would like to point out that there are many different open-source 3D printer designs that all have their strengths and weaknesses. I will primarily focus on Voron design here, but that does not mean that the other designs such as the RatRig Vcore, Hevort, VzBot, Jubilee, or any other design would not also be a great choice.
Where to get started
To find out more about the Voron printers, the best place to start is their website. There you get an overview of the various designs they are currently supporting and all the relevant links for them. All the design files are available on their GitHub and there is a detailed sourcing guide for all the parts needed with links to various suppliers. However, while Voron design recommends for your to source your parts individually, so you have control over the quality of each and every one of them, it is a lot easier and cheaper to go with a kit, especially if it is your first DIY printer. Voron design themselves do not sell any kits and also do not officially endorse any 3rd party kits in particular. But they do explicitly allow anyone to sell parts or kits for Voron printers, they are just not involved. This means that getting just any cheap kit might lead to unfortunate surprises when the quality of some components doesn’t match your expectations. This is why it is a good idea to go with a popular reseller that has many positive reviews. The phrase you get what you pay for is also a good indicator of the component quality you might expect in a kit. This is also a good point to mention RatRig again, as they do sell a kit for the Vcore on their website, so if you don’t want to take any chances, maybe have a look at them.
Why the Voron 0.1?
While the Voron 2.4 is probably the most popular model out of their lineup thanks to having a very striking design and an uncompromising feature list, the V0.1 also has its perks. It crams all the benefits of a CoreXY system in a package that will comfortably fit next to you on your desk. While the relatively small build volume of only 120mm cubed might turn some people away, for most this is large enough for 95% of prints. The small form factor also has some other benefits apart from looking super cute. Compared to the other Voron printers, the bill of materials for the V0.1 comes out to be quite a bit cheaper, simply due to less material being required. It is also super convenient to be able to just pick up the printer with one hand and flip it over to work on the backside. This, of course, also comes with the matching downside, as everything about this printer is super tiny, so if you don’t like working with small and fiddly components, you might be better off with one of the larger designs.
Printing the Parts
The first step in actually building a Voron is to print all the plastic parts required. This means that you already need to have a 3d printer before getting started. And while that might seem like somewhat of a flaw, you don’t need a super expensive printer to be able to print the parts. Having some 3d printing experience before jumping headfirst into a DIY adventure is certainly also not a bad idea. If you still would like to build a Voron as your first printer or have trouble printing the parts, there is the “print it forward” program, where other Voron users print all the parts required to get up and running for a very fair price. The only catch is that due to high demand there is a bit of a queue at the moment. Another option would be to have the parts printed by a print service or to get one of the sets popping up on Aliexpress. However, there you should make sure they are of good quality and use the appropriate print settings and material recommended by Voron design. And speaking of material, since all Voron printers are designed to be enclosed, the parts need to be printed with a material that can withstand high temperatures. The recommended filament is ABS or ASA, but there are also people having success with reinforced Nylon or Polycarbonate. PETG and PLA have too low of a melting point and will not work.
The Assembly process
The detailed assembly manual of the Voron 3D printers is one of their big strengths that almost makes them more of a kit printer than a DIY machine. Not only do you get the 3d model with every nut and bolt modeled exactly where it should be, there is a step-by-step illustrated manual for the mechanical assembly. You do have to be careful though to read every detail and follow the instructions precisely, as no annotation is there by chance. Forgetting to insert a nut into an extrusion might not seem like a big deal at the moment, but three hours later you have to take apart dozens of screws to be able to put that nut in. With everything going smoothly, assembling a V0.1 will take around 10 to 15 hours, depending on your experience with building 3d printers.
Electronics and components
While there is a suggested configuration for the electronics, this is an area where you could easily make changes to better match what you’re looking for in a 3D printer. The Voron printers are intended to use Klipper firmware, so you will need a Raspberry Pi in addition to your controller board. To wire all the components neatly, it is a good idea to invest in some wire crimping equipment. If you go with the cheaper models, which will be enough if you don’t plan on using them a lot, this should not cost you more than $50. In case you run into issues on what should be connected where you can consult either the wiring diagrams in the manual or check the documentation for your controller board. If you are still stuck, you can always ask for help on the Voron Discord channel, where there are many people eager to help.
There are quite a few steps involved in setting up Klipper firmware, but if you follow along with the documentation, the only knowledge you need beforehand is being able to copy-paste commands. With Klipper, you also have a choice of web interfaces. There is the popular Octoprint, which is also compatible with other firmware and has a big community and plugin support, or there are Fluid and Mainsail. These two are purpose build for Klipper and because of that are much more lightweight. They also have a more modern user interface and are a bit easier to set up. The main downside would be that there is currently no plugin support.
After the initial setup, there are some advanced features that can be configured in Klipper. They are not required to get you printing, but once you’re comfortable with your new setup it’s worth investing the time. First on the list after getting your slicer settings somewhat dialed in is to calibrate pressure advance. This feature relieves the pressure in the hotend before the printer slows down to prevent over extrusion in corners. It also greatly improves the stringing performance of your hotend. All you need to do is print a test part with specific parameters that are listed in the documentation. After that, you simply choose what looks best and save the value to your firmware settings.
The final step and one of the most talked-about features of Klipper is input shaping. It tries to cancel out some of the oscillations that your printer will experience after suddenly changing directions, also called ringing. To do this, it moves ever so slightly in the opposite direction at just the right time. This requires you to find the resonant frequencies of your printer and tune some more settings. There is a manual way to do this, or you can mount an accelerometer on your tool head to measure exactly how your printer responds to various frequencies. Both options are described in detail in the Klipper documentation.
We finally made it to the finish line, so how does it print? Even before any tuning, the print results were very impressive. It was after setting up pressure advance though, that it really came together. This printer can produce essentially perfect prints and that at an incredible speed. For PLA and ABS, the base speed of my “every day” profile is 150mm/s, which compared to the 60-70mm/s that are common on budget printers is more than twice as fast. Added to that the accelerations you can achieve without artifacts are around 5 times greater. This means that especially small details, where the printer doesn’t have time to reach its maximum speed, are printed a lot faster.
Trying to print as fast as possible without focusing on quality, I was able to reach a print speed of around 500mm/s in vase mode. The main limiting factor at this point is how quickly your hotend can melt the plastic. Naturally, an attempt at a speed Benchy was also in order, and after some tweaking, I was able to successfully print a regulation Benchy in only 9:48min. This is not quite a record, but keeping in mind that on most regular printers a Benchy will take one to two hours, this is very impressive.
Thanks to the enclosure, printing more advanced materials like ABS and even Nylon or Polycarbonate also becomes a possibility. You won’t be printing PEEK or Ultem on your plastic 3D printer any time soon, but that is no big surprise, considering they ideally need an ambient temperature of close to 200 degrees celsius. Continuing with consumer plastics, PLA, PETG, and also flexibles are no problem, you just might want to keep the door open and possibly even remove the top to make sure they can cool down fast enough.
If you are interested in 3D printing, building your own is the best way to learn all the ins and outs so you can not only fix your machine but possibly even improve on it. Well-documented open-source designs like the Voron printers or any of the other great projects are an approachable way to get into it and if you ever get stuck there is a very passionate community there to help you out. If you are looking at a smaller machine, the Voron 0.1 is a great option, but don’t let the hype for a specific machine take you over and instead look at what you want from your 3D printer and then make an educated decision on which printer is for you.